Putin’s nuclear torpedo and Project Pluto
The device described in the leak is a megaton class long range nuclear torpedo. The idea is, if you build a big enough bomb and blow it off in coastal waters, it will create a 1000 foot high nuclear tidal wave that will physically wipe out coastal cities and Naval installations, as well as pollute them with radioactive fallout. If the Rooskies are working on such a thing, rather than trolling the twittering pustules in our foreign policy “elite,” it is certainly nothing new. Such a device was considered in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the original November class submarine design (the first non-US built nuclear sub) was designed around it. It was called the T-15 “land attack” torpedo. Oddly this idea originated from America’s favorite Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov when thinking about delivery systems for his 100 megaton class devices. People forget that young Sakharov was kind of a dick. Mind you, the Soviet Navy sunk this idea, in part because it only had a range of 25 miles (meaning it was basically a suicide mission), but also, according to Sakharov’s autobiography, some grizzled old Admiral put it “we are Navy; we don’t make war on civilian populations…”
The gizmo shown in this recent Russian leak is a modern incarnation of the T-15 land attack torpedo without the Project 627/November class submarine delivery system. Same 1.6 meter caliber, megaton class warhead and everything. The longer range of 5000 miles versus the 25 of the T-15 could be considered an innovation, and is certainly possible, but it only has tactical implications. From a strategic point of view: they had the same idea years ago, for roughly the same reasons. Fifties era Soviet nuclear weapons delivery systems were not as reliable as American ones. In the 50s it was because Soviet bombers of the era were junk (mostly copies of the B-29). If they’re building this now, it’s because they’re worried about US missile defense.
Various analysts have been speculating that the thing is wrapped in cobalt or something to make it more dirty, because the rooskie power point talks about area denial. While it’s entirely possible, these dopes posing as analysts have some weird ideas about what a nuclear weapon is, and what it does. Nobody seems to have noticed that there’s a nuclear reactor pushing the thing around; predumably one using liquid metal coolants like the Alfa class submarines. I’m pretty sure lighting off a nuke next to a nuclear reactor will make some nasty and long lived fallout. At 1 megaton, just the bomb casing and tamper makes a few hundred pounds of nasty long lived radioactive stuff. The physics package the Russians would likely use (SS-18 Mod-6 rated at 20Mt, recently retired from deployment atop SS-18 satan missiles) is a fission-fusion-fission bomb, and inherently quite “dirty” since most of the energy is released from U-238. Worse still: blowing up a 1-100 megaton device in coastal mud will make lots of nasty fallout. Sodium-24 (from the salt in the water) is deadly. Half life is around 15 hours, meaning it would be clear in a few days, but being around it for the time it is active …. Then there is sodium-22, which has a half life of two and a half years; nukes in the water make less of this than sodium-24, but, well, go look it up. There is all kinds of other stuff in soil and muck which makes for unpleasant fallout. There’s an interesting book (particularly the 1964 edition) called “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons” available on archive. Chapter 9 shows some of the fallout patterns you can expect from blowing something like this up. Or, you could use this calculator thing; a 1Mt device makes a lethal fallout cloud over thousands of square kilometers.
The twittering pustules who pass for our foreign policy elite are horrified, just horrified that the rooskies would spook us with such a device. As if this were somehow a morally inferior form of megadeath to lobbing a couple thousand half megaton nuclear missile warheads at your least favorite country. Apparently this is how civilized countries who do not possess enemies with a plurality of coastal cities exterminate their foes. I don’t understand such people. Nuclear war is bad in general, m’kay? Mass slaughter with a nuclear torpedo is not morally inferior to mass slaughter with an ICBM. More to the point, getting along with Russians is easy and vodka is cheaper and more effective than ABM (and doomsday torpedo) defenses. If we hired actual diplomats and people who study history, instead of narcissistic toadies and sinister neocon apparatchiks to labor in our foreign services … maybe the Russians wouldn’t troll us with giant nuke torpedoes.
Doomsday engineering is often stranger than any science fiction. The things they built back in the cold war were weird. While the US never admitted to building any 100 megaton land torpedoes (probably because Russia doesn’t have as many important coastal cities as the US does), we certainly worked on some completely bonkers nuclear objects.
Imagine a locomotive sized cruise missile, powered by a nuclear ramjet, cruising at mach-3 at tree level. The cruise missile showers the landscape with two dozen hydrogen bombs of the megaton class, or one big one in the 20 megaton class. When it is finished its job of raining electric death mushrooms all over the enemy, it cruises around farting deadly radioactive dust and flattening cities with the sheer power of the sonic boom… for months. In principle, such a device can go on practically forever. If I were to use such a contraption as a plot device, you’d probably think it was far fetched. Such a thing was almost built by the Vought corporation 50 years ago. Click on the link. The Vought corporation thought it was cool enough to brag about it on their website (please don’t take it down guys; anyway if you do, I’ll put it back up).
65,000 lbs, 80 feet long, with the terrifying code name, SLAM (Supersonic, Low Altitude Missile), or … “project Pluto.” This thing was perilously close to being built. They tested the engines at full scale and full power at Jackass Flats, and the guidance system was good enough they used essentially the same thing in the Tomahawk cruise missile. The problem wasn’t technical … but how to test it? The fact that it was an enormous nuclear ramjet made it inherently rather dangerous. Someone suggested flight testing it on a tether in the desert. That would have been quite a tether to hold a mach 3 locomotive in place. Fortunately, we had rocket scientists who built ICBMs that worked. Of course, having an ICBM class booster would have been necessary to make the thing work in the first place (nuclear ramjets don’t start working until they’re moving at a decent velocity), which makes you wonder why they ever thought this was a good idea. Probably because people who dream these things up are barking looneys. Not that I wouldn’t have worked on this project, given the chance.
The ceramic matrix for the reactor was actually made by the Coors Porcelain company. Yes, the same company that makes shitty beer has been (and continues to be) an innovator in ceramics; and this originated from the founder’s needing good materials for beer bottles and inventing beer cans. According to Jalopnik, they used exhaust header paint ordered from hot rod magazine to protect some of the electronic components. Apparently when they lit the reactor off at full power for the first time, they got so shitfaced, the project director (Merkle; yes, nano-dude’s father) had vitamin B shots issued to the celebrants the following day. Yes, I would have worked on project SLAM: as far as I can tell, it was the most epic redneck project ever funded by the US government. Not that we should have built such a thing, but holy radioactive doomsday smoke, Batman, it would have been a fun job for a few years.
I wouldn’t blame the Russians if they wanted to build a giant nuclear torpedo-codpiece when the US sends Russiophobic dipshits like Michael McFaul to represent us in Russia (look at his twitter feed; it is completely bonkers). I certainly hope they don’t build such a thing. It would also be nice if the US would stop screwing around with crap like that as well. Pretty sure it’s a giant troll, but the T-15 and Project Pluto were not.
Interesting pdf on Project Pluto:
Edit add:fascinating Russian wikipedia page MichaelMoser123 posted to hacker news: